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1,500 volunteers help with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s spring cleanup

Under a brilliant sun, a record 1,500 volunteers combed area shorelines Saturday for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s annual spring cleanup.

The two-hour blitz resulted in the removal of 10 tons of trash from more than 40 locations along bike paths, creek beds and at nature preserves. The largest contingent – 300 workers – targeted Scajaquada Creek with 120 more workers concentrated in the industrial corridor along Ohio Street.

Olivia Miller, 16, a junior at Buffalo Seminary, never liked litterbugs. That’s why she volunteered for the cleanup. “All the trash that’s on the land will eventually blow into the water, so we’re trying to prevent that,” she said. “I’ve always yelled at people when they littered.”

Olivia – who found a piece of barbed wire – was joined by a handful of schoolmates gathering trash in the area surrounding the Ohio Street Boat Launch. The group included sophomore Charlotte Long of Williamsville and junior Sophie Mielnik, who lives in Elmwood Village.

“It makes you aware of what people do when they litter,” Sophie said.

The refuse collected this year was simple compared to the motorcycle and baby stroller dragged from the Scajaquada in years past. One boy said he found a baby bottle on Ohio Street. His brother discovered some cat litter. Phyllis Martin of Grand Island found “everyday life litter” like bottles, cans and one unidentifiable coin whose gleam caught her eye.

On Unity Island, Bill and Pauline Janish of Clarence unearthed a cat’s- eye marble in their sixth year of collecting trash.

Each of the volunteers was given two plastic bags: one clear bag for recycling and a black one for garbage. Glass pickle jars were distributed to hold sharp items.

The bags were collected and counted at the respective sites with site captains reporting the total number. In turn, many of the cities and towns work with Riverkeeper to pick up the recyclables and garbage from the sites.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper is dedicated to protecting and restoring fresh water. Over the past 25 years, the nonprofit organization has cleaned up toxic sediment, eliminated sewage overflows and restored critical habitat.

On Saturday, Riverkeeper set its sights on plastic bags, asking volunteers to sign a petition that called for the Erie County Legislature to fund an environmental impact study of plastic bags and single-use bags.

The most damaging plastic polluter remains the “ubiquitous plastic bottle,” but plastic bags are caught up by the wind and get stuck in trees, said Jill Spisiak Jedlicka, executive director of Riverkeeper. “Through these cleanings we realize how much plastic infiltrated our lives and waterways.”

Joining Riverkeeper in the plastic bag initiative are Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Alliance for Great Lakes.

A volunteer appreciation gathering was held after the cleanup at West Side Rowing Club on Porter Avenue.

Woodlawn Beach in the Town of Hamburg was the scene Saturday of another waterside cleanup led by Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo.